Words by Khari Clarke
What did happen.
On June 19, 1865, Union general Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas with 'General Order, Number 3' which stated: "The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.” In one fell swoop the already battered Confederacy took one if its most fatal blows, as Texas was the last of the Confederate strongholds. In a day, nearly 250,000 enslaved African-Americans were finally liberated.
Up to this point, following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Texan slaveowners continued with business as usual, while deliberately insulating their enslaved from news of their liberation. The information was kept from them for two and a half years, up until General Granger’s arrival in Galveston, so that their labor could continue to fortify the Southern economy and the Confederate war effort.
Following the first Juneteenth many of the newly emancipated African-Americans fled to the North to join the Union Army’s effort, while others dispersed in every cardinal direction to find their families or start a new life with their newly found liberation.
A group photograph of 31 people at a Juneteenth Celebration in Emancipation Park in Houston's Fourth Ward, 1880. Reverend Jack Yates is pictured on the left and Sallie Yates is pictured in the center toward the front in a black outfit.
What did not happen.
While hundreds of thousands of enslaved African-Americans were freed as of June 19, 1865, that is not to say slavery ended in America on this day. President Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation meticulously, with very specific and strategic intent. It freed enslaved African-Americans of the 11 Confederate states, in an effort to drastically strain the Southern economy and hasten the Confederacy’s defeat. However, it did not apply to bordering states: Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and Missouri, all of whom maintained loyalty to the Union, and therefore were under no legal obligation to free the enslaved African-Americans they owned. So, as of Juneteenth and following Gen. Granger’s fateful visit to Galveston, Texas, slavery continued within the bordering states for at least six more months, until the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865.
The fate of freed African-Americans following Juneteenth was also not monolithic either. While some escaped Texas, many were also lynched, murdered, and in some cases kept illegally confined by slave owners,especially in Houston where freed Blacks were deemed “idle” and forced to work — in conditions not unlike they had been before Gen. Granger’s arrival.
It wasn’t until the Thirteenth Amendment that all enslaved African-Americans were freed nationwide, but as many of us know this had ramifications of its own, the ripples of which are still felt to this day. But that’s another story for another time...